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Most folks don't know that the Italians had over 80,000 troops in
Russia during WWII, and fewer know that most of them died or were
captured during the retreat in the dead of winter from Stalingrad.
This movie does an excellent job of showing the life of an (any) average soldier in any army- the grunts, the footsloggers, the cannon fodder. The few officers shown (the exception being the colonel in charge of the unit) are far from heroic, being either cowards or incompetents.
Shot in stark black and white, this movie personalizes war in a way that hagiography's such as "Patton" or extravaganza's like "The Longest Day" absolutely failed to do. If anything, this is like a (much) shorter version of "A Band Of Brothers"- it is that good.
As stated by other commentators, nothing good happens to anyone in this movie- it is real-life film noir. Good, bad, indifferent, everybody suffers. This is what a war movie made by, if not Jules Dassin or Robert Siodmak, than Richard Fleischner or Felix Feist would look like.
It is not all gloom and doom however. The scenes which take place during the advance through the Ukraine in the spring and summer are light, and reveal the soldiers attitude of "What are we doing here?" and contrasts them well with the occasional appearance of a Nazi official or an officer of the Wehrmacht.
For those interested, read "Few Returned" by Eugenio Corti, an Italien officer who was one of the few to escape the destruction of the Italian Expeditionary Force on the steppes of Russia, and for an Italian's view of their erstwhile "ally", I recommend "Kaput" by Curzio Malaparte, an Italian journalist who witnessed at first hand the savagery of the Nazi occupation in Poland and points east.
I remember seeing this movie (Attack and Retreat) as a kid back in the
seventies. There are many, many images which have stuck in my mind from
this film: The young soldier and girl in the vast sunflower field, the
Russian tank mowing down Italian troops in a Russian town, Soviet cavalry
charging over the snow fields, "Stalin's Organs" rocket launchers filling
the skies with fire, a good-natured chase to get to a dead snow rabbit in
no-man's land, all this after 30 years!
I recently bought the video of this film, and forgot how good it really is. The best thing about it is the subject matter. One-it is a war film Two-it lacks a sappy romance angle Three-it deals with the Russian Front and Four-it deals with the Italian Army on that front.
Strikes against it (only from a modern film viewers point of view, not mine) One-it was done in Italian, then over-dubbed in English Two-it is, after all, a war film without sappy romance and Three-it is in black and white.
The feeling of loneliness, fear, panic, and desolation come out well in this movie. I can easily imagine the story of these men on the Russian front as having been real...it was as if the director himself had been there (not sure if he was). No character is expendable in this film (as it should be in a war film), so the fear of danger for each character is always there (much like Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front). The viewer is made to feel close to these men, because they are shown as being good, decent men caught in a huge man-destroying machine called the Eastern Front. The director shows much disdain for the German allies, portrays the Spanish allies as being rather silly running around with their banner even when the Earth was crashing down around them, and shows much respect for the Soviet soldiers, almost admiration. Pro-communist sympathy from a 1960's Italian director should be far from surprising. Even the characters liked the Internationale. One soldier liked to play it on his harmonica, and near the end two of them are whistling it. The Black Shirt "elite troops" were shown as thieves, cowards, and rapists. The average Italian soldiers were portrayed as victims along with the Russians.
One interesting thing about the film was the appearance of Peter Falk as an Italian Army surgeon/playboy, about ten years before he became better known as the TV character Columbo.
I saw this many, many years ago under the title "Attack and Retreat".
It is about the Italian participation in World War II on the Eastern
Front - where Mussolini sent soldiers to die for his own grandiose
vision of himself as an equal partner in German conquest.
I'm not able to recall many details, but there are a number of remarkable scenes that stand out in my memory. One was of a young soldier and a Russian girl in a field of high wheat. Quiet bullets whisper through the windblown stalks in deadly counterpoint to the young love of the boy and girl. In another scene Peter Falk, looking very small and lonely in a bleak and forbidding landscape of snow and ice, struggles to get to the rear while artillery rockets streak through the sky behind him. In still another scene, an Italian guard plays the Internationale on his harmonica to show some human solidarity to a group of Russian civilian prisoners. A mocking German guard demands that the prisoners sing, and a singer stands up to sing.
Shot in very striking black and white, it was an effective antiwar and anti-fascist film with powerful visuals and a strong message of humanity.
I liked it very much and wish it were shown more often.
I would certainly rate this film as one of the greatest war movies of all time. Certainly one of the most poignant. This film is in the league with Saving Private Ryan, Patton, Paths of Glory and a hand full of other important films about the lives and deaths of soldiers....any soldier, from any country....life is cherished and death has the same bitter taste to all young soldiers. A marvellous piece of work is this film.
I will start by noting that I like to watch historical movies for the history and I think this one gives you a lot, not so much names, places, battles, dates as the "feel" of what it was like for the foot sloggers, details of uniforms, etc., and this movie does a good job. At times I felt the icy winds howling across the Russian Steppes, the T-34 tanks advancing against Italians caught out in the open, with no properly prepared positions or anti-tank weapons. I confess I missed the subtle anti-Fascist/pro-Soviet allusions other viewers referred to, I did feel for the poorly trained and equipped Italian soldiers fighting a tough and determined and better equipped enemy.
Saw it as a teenager and still remember lots of "action" that ALWAYS ended
badly for the good ones. Full of unbelievable incidents, which give the
spectator hope - but end in sudden catastrophe or in other sad
Have never before or later seen a film, that so much could make a young, male spectator realize, that war is no fun.
An excellent movie especially if your interest is depicting the horrors of war. No war is ever easy or fun-producing, especially when you consider that the vast number of killed-in-action are from age 18 through age 23. Permanently maimed are in excess of 8 times the number of dead. This movie "Attack and Retreat" seems to depict the German soldiers more monsters than fighting men, and the Russians as gentle and kind - hardly a good description of either. Because of its excellent acting and moving scenes, I rated this movie an 8. It is true that the Italian soldier has been regarded generally as humane. It may be because Italian soldiers have strong family and Catholic values. Also, war is not Italy's strong point or sphere of interest. Too bad that no inference was made as to the many millions of Stalin's own people who were starved to death or killed in his murderous rampages. Of all the war pictures I have ever seen - this movie stands out as one of the most engrossing.
Saw this movie only once, in the late 60's. I still remember it quite
clearly. A close-up, unflinching look at the horror and futility of war.
The endless, bleak Russian steppes, the shattered cities, the ice-bound
winter landscapes, all combine to show how hopeless the German invasion
The winter retreat is one of the most frightening and depressing scenes in the movie, but it is just one of several. The film follows several characters through the war in interwoven threads, and each one is memorable.
I am eager to see this on video.
This is up there with STORM OVER THE PACIFIC as one of the most
criminally unappreciated films dealing with the subject of World War 2.
To my mind, it may well be the only film that depicts or even mentions
the Italian expeditionary force on the Eastern Front battling against
the Russians from 1941-1943, largely routed and destroyed along with
their Romanian allies during the surrounding of the 6th Army at
The film follows a small unit of the much larger ARMIR force beginning with their hopeful and largely uncontested advance through the Ukraine in 1941. Things get a little wonky with the Germans contesting who gets to claim victory over a hard-fought battle over the Bug River, and even more-so with a unit of Italian Black Shirts led by an unscrupulous Arthur Kennedy and their organized looting. A tacked-on episode involves Peter Falk as a disillusioned Italian medic traded with Russian Partisans to provide some altruistic care in the midst of a lot of embittering carnage and insanity. Toward the end, things turn into an existentially nihilistic death march across the frozen steppes of Russia where the separated soldiers attempt to escape back to the imagined safety of their retreating front lines.
Filmed in stark high-contrast black-and-white, the Soviet influence upon this film is very clear with its frequently artistic and experimental approach to the grim subject matter. This clashes a bit when we see it saddled with the expressive physical gesturing and bad dubbing we've become accustomed to from low budget Italian Euro-war movies. The film feels like an odd mish-mash of war epic, exploitation B-movie, and documentary-style art film all in one package so it fails just about as much as it succeeds, but contains more than its fair share of memorable moments.
Who can forget the image of the lone Russian girl screaming in the middle of a sea of sunflowers while soldiers charge through... the T-34 machine-gunning bewildered soldiers riding a merry-go-round... the horizon ablaze with Katyusha rocket fire... or the Russians charging their cavalry through the snow into a mechanized column of retreating Axis soldiers?
While the film is mostly a collection of loosely connected darkly ironic slices of life on the front, it is most successful when it sticks with history and presents the big battles. Depending on which cut you come across, this film contains a lot of historically accurate reenacting of some of the biggest battles of the early Eastern Front on the largely on locations they actually occurred at. The full cooperation of the Soviet Union was thrown behind this film with lots of tanks, trucks, extras, and armaments generously provided, and really shows in the scope. Unfortunately the filmmakers go too far in trying to play to many masters at once, painting the Soviets as noble heroes, the Germans and Italian Fascists as brutal thugs, and the regular Italian soldiery as patriotic family men who turn into hapless malingerers and deserters once they come to suffer from poor leadership, provisions, and lack of equipment. Much of this may be based on history, but the stereotyping at play becomes increasingly distracting and annoying as the film progresses to the point where it feels like the advancing waves of noble Soviets are invincible and infallible... like an unstoppable typhoon our bewildered protagonists have found themselves caught up in.
It's likely the pro-Red stance of this film which caused it to be swept under the carpet and never get much of a release in the United States, coming at the height of the Cold War. For the casual modern viewer or student of history though there's a lot of entertainment and educational value to take away here once one sifts through the propaganda as merely a product of the time of the film's historiography. It almost says more about what was going on in a very politically divided Italy in 1965 than what was going on in Russia in 1941-42. Either way, this awkward and flawed, yet beautifully crafted film certainly has the artistic merit to deserve a wider and cleaned up, definitive release.
So many remakes get produced these days, and so many of those turn out
to be HORRIBLE decisions. Here is a screenplay that, with just a wee
bit of work and a reasonable budget, could be made into one fine film.
As it stands, this is an uneven picture with many moments of sheer
brilliance. The saber-charging Cossacks are a terrifying lot. The
scream of the rockets over the horizon, even with the deficient mono
soundtrack, is truly hair-raising, especially considering the limited
technology and budget that must have been available in that time and
place. Other reviewers have objected to the heroic status conveyed to
the Russians, both combatant and non-. Well, some of them WERE heroes,
and but for their heroics there would have been a lot more Nazis for US
to fight! I'm sorry if that upsets those laboring under neo-con
delusions out there, but too bad for you.
And there was certainly no shortage of heroes, and victims, among the ranks of the Italians. If you ever visit Italy, tour some of the little villages in the countryside. In the town square you'll often find an ornate statue dedicated to their World War I dead, usually five or six names, or maybe a few more, depending on the size of the town. Somewhere near you'll typically find a simple block of granite bearing the names of their sons who never came back from North Africa, Greece, and the Eastern Front in the next war, names that may number in the dozens or even hundreds. Just as the story of Corelli's Mandolin deserves to be told correctly, so does this one.
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